Sometimes people really just need to lighten up. Not everything is a slight, and not everything requires an apology.
A good example of this is the way far too many people, with seemingly nothing better to get upset about, came down on British actor Benedict Cumberbatch last week for daring to use the quaint term, “colored,” to describe minorities. There was such a fuss over his use of the term in an interview that the Academy Award-nominated actor had to issue an apology for his word choice.
Geez. You would swear he used the “n-word” or some other undeniable slur. But saying “colored”?
Even more ironic was the fact that Cumberbatch used the term, which I find not offensive but rather just an indication of the world someone lives in, while doing an interview with a black man and while saying all the right things about the need for diversity in the movie business, especially back in his home country.
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Cumberbatch was on The Tavis Smiley PBS show and was asked about diversity in roles, a hot question these days considering the #OscarsSoWhite controversy. Cumberbatch said: "I think as far as colored actors go it gets really different in the U.K., and a lot of my friends have had more opportunities here [in the U.S.] than in the U.K., and that's something that needs to change. Something's gone wrong. We're not representative enough in our culture of different races, and that really does need to step up apace."
Great answer. Yet the only thing some people focused on was that he said “colored actors.” Oh, give me a break. Whatever happened to putting people’s words in context and looking at the whole person, not a piece?
Cumberbatch was not going on some rant against African Americans, and his intent was, in fact, good. But one slip of the tongue means that his entire message is lost? Soon enough, every person in the spotlight will have to censor themselves for fear of being blasted on social media for any misspoken word.
As is so common in our modern world, what followed was the obligatory appeasement of the forces so easily offended; Cumberbatch issued an apology:
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I'm devastated to have caused offense by using this outmoded terminology. I offer my sincere apologies. I make no excuse for my being an idiot and know the damage is done. I can only hope this incident will highlight the need for correct usage of terminology that is accurate and inoffensive. The most shaming aspect of this for me is that I was talking about racial inequality in the performing arts in the U.K. and the need for rapid improvements in our industry when I used the term.
Damage? What damage? Don’t get me wrong; I get that “colored” is an old term and one that we have moved away from, in part because it implies that white is not a color as well and it brushes all people of color with one stroke. But with that being said, it is absolutely silly to pretend that every usage is equally offensive.
I would hope and I do believe that most people are smart enough to read nuance and intent. In this case, a man was made to apologize and feel stupid for no other reason other than that there are those out there who see and take offense at almost anything a white person may do that is not approved. In doing so, we do more to hurt our cause than anything someone like Cumberbatch might do or say.
Photo Credit: Wikicommons, Sam/Flickr